Kiwi Dixon wins IndyCar opener in Texas after pandemic delay


Los Angeles (AFP)

New Zealand's Scott Dixon climbed out of his car and donned a white protective face mask after seizing the checkered flag in the delayed IndyCar season-opening race in Texas on Saturday.

Dixon crossed the finish line first ahead of runner-up Simon Pagenaud in the Genesys 300, the first IndyCar race in eight months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Such strange times right now," said Dixon immediately after the race. "It was awesome. The power out there. We could just go for it."

After the COVID-19 pandemic led to a postponement of the 2020 IndyCar campaign, the series finally got underway with no spectators in the grandstands at the 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometer) Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

"I am bummed that the fans aren't here," Dixon said. "I wish everybody was here to celebrate."

Former Indianapolis 500 winner Pagenaud finished 4.4 seconds back in second and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden placed third.

Organizers decided to run the practice, qualifying and 200-lap race all on the same day to minimize the amount of time the participants would be at the venue.

"Today was compact," he said. "We flew in this morning and we had a hour and 20 minute practice, then straight to qualifying and straight to the race, and then fly back out tonight. That is very different. Normally we have a couple of days of prep, so that was difficult."

Dixon earned his 47th career win to move within just five victories of Italian-born American Mario Andretti, who is second all-time with 52. He also matched AJ Foyt's record of 18 seasons with a victory.

Dixon led 157 of the 200 laps, and had an earlier six-second lead over Newgarden wiped out by a caution for debris.

"We had to make some big bold moves," Dixon said.

"I can't tell you how good it feels to be back in the car. It has been such crazy times for so many people.

"I feel very lucky to do what I do. A huge thanks to the IndyCar series and everybody involved to get us back on the track. We had a lot of changes in the offseason with the delay."

- Elbow bumps -

Drivers and team members went through temperature screenings when they got to Texas Motor Speedway. Crew members were required to wear face masks, and space was provided for social distancing in the garage areas. Dixon received elbow bumps instead of high fives in the victory lane.

Last year's pole sitter Takuma Sato crashed on his warm-up lap entering turn one. The former Indianapolis 500 winner was checked out at the on site medical facility and released, but then missed the race because he couldn't get his car repaired in time.

Felix Rosenqvist was in contention when he crashed with nine laps to go. Rosenqvist was weaving through the field when he got high on the backstretch and lost control. He finished in 20th place.

There will be nearly a month's break before the next race July 4 on a road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The road course race will be the first of five IndyCar races in a 15-day period in July, including a doubleheader weekend at Wisconsin's Road America.